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February 16, 2016

Review: 11.22.63 1x1 (US: Hulu; UK: Fox)

Posted on February 16, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

11.22.63

In the US: Mondays, Hulu
In the UK: Acquired by Fox

Normally, in science-fiction involving time travel, said McGuffin is useful. Want to go back in time to kill Hitler before he rises to power? Fair dos. Hop into the Wayback Machine, set the controls for Munich, 1921, and give it a whirl with your phased plasma rifle in the 40W range.

So US Netflix rival Hulu's first original series, 11.22.63, based on the huge doorstop of the same name by Stephen King, gives us a moderately unusual alternative. Here, we have Groundhog Day time travel - time travel that resets and doesn't necessarily leave you in the place you'd like to be.

It stars James Franco as an unassuming modern day high school teacher who's friends with Chris Cooper, who runs the local diner. Cooper ages and goes a bit weird surprisingly quickly and one day, Franco finds out why: at the back of Cooper's closet is a door that leads to the early 60s. Go through it, change the past, come back and you've changed the present; but go back again and you'll reset everything you did the last time you went through and you'll have to start from scratch.

Cooper's now dying of cancer, so he'd like to pass his pet project onto Franco. No, not importing cheap meat from the past. The other one. He wants low-achiever Franco to stop JFK from being assassinated and thereby save the US from the Vietnam War and a dozen other calamities. It probably wasn't Lee Harvey Oswald that shot JFK, mind, but Cooper has done a lot of research into who might really be responsible and is happy to give Franco the results of his work researching the USSR, the CIA and others. Now it's up to Franco to find out definitively what the Warren Commission couldn't.

The only trouble? The time portal at the back of his diner only takes you back to the same day in October 1960. Franco's going to have to live for three years in the past to get to the fateful date. And the past really doesn't like Franco and wants him to go back to the present.

Continue reading "Review: 11.22.63 1x1 (US: Hulu; UK: Fox)"

February 16, 2016

Review: Those Who Can't 1x1-1x2 (US: TruTV)

Posted on February 16, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Those Who Can't

In the US: Thursdays, 10.30/9.30c, TruTV

TruTV. It wasn't so long ago when you were just CourtTV, but then you decided to start focusing on reality TV, and TruTV was born. That seemed reasonable. Then you decided to have a go at short-form comedy programmes, but at least they were more 'prank shows' than sitcoms. But now you're having a go at long-form comedy. So what's Tru now, TruTV?

Like TV Land, which is trying to bust out of its previous demographic, too, TruTV has decided to spearhead its edgy new style by getting a troop of improv comedy performers to come up with a sitcom about teachers. But while TV Land handed Teachers over to a group of female performers working with small children, TruTV decided that a group of male performers pretending to be high school teachers would be the best option for Those Who Can't. Looking at the differences is instructive. Or maybe it isn't. But let's look at them.

While Teachers was basically about a bunch of female teachers who brought their own personal issues to school, resulting in incompetent teaching, Those Who Can't is about a bunch of guys who never grew up into men and so aren't very good at teaching nearly-men. Indeed, they largely get bullied by them or each other.

And that's pretty much all the jokes: nerdy men trying to out-alpha each other while being out-alphaed by all the kids they teach. That and lots of jokes about dicks. And balls. And dicks and balls. 

There is the occasional gay joke, just to break up the monotony. And one about the Spanish teacher teaching Castillian Spanish rather than Latin American Spanish - gosh, those lisped c's are just so amusing, aren't they? But that's it for variety.

Despite only 42% of US high school teachers being male, the entire faculty appears to consist of men, from the principal (Ground Floor's Rory Scovel) downwards. The sole exception is the librarian (Maria Thayer), who's there for the guys to hit on and be rebuffed, when she's not acting like 'one of the boys' and making jokes about dicks… and balls… and dicks and balls, of course.

But that's it. Pretty much everything about Those Who Can't is predictable and the show is bereft of any hint of reality. Even when the mean kids turn up at a teacher's house and YouTube themselves paintballing him, nothing happens, so naturally the teachers have to then go off and plant heroin in the lead kid's locker to get him expelled. Sounds fun? Don't worry - it isn't. 

Those who can't? Make comedy show for TruTV, it turns out.

January 29, 2016

Review: The Outsiders 1x1 (US: WGN America)

Posted on January 29, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Outsiders

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm ET, WGN America
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When it comes to America, I'm an outsider. I'm not from America, I've not lived in America and I have no American relatives. Sure, I've been to many parts of America, watched stupid amounts of American TV and movies, worked for an American company, got married in America, done American studies at (secondary) school and even had an I-visa that allowed me to stay and work in the US for up to five years if I'd wanted.

But none of that makes me American and it certainly doesn't qualify me to understand why The Outsiders exists. 

In a way, I imagine liking The Outsiders is the US equivalent of someone English train-spotting or Morris dancing. These are quintessentially English things that even a lot of English people have trouble understanding, but which the rest of the world looks at as though the devotee in question should have an entire chapter of the DSM dedicated to them, and maybe the entire country itself should be sown with salt. Why on Earth would anyone do these things?

The Outsiders isn't without antecedents, either. An everyday tale of an inbred family of Southeners, sticking by their own kind, obeying a stern family figure, living by their own rules, drinking moonshine, racing all over the place, breaking whatever laws they want while the cops try and fail to catch them? The Dukes of Hazzard was there first, obviously.

Even if you didn't get any of the subtext about Southerners or know anything much about the US, the The Dukes of Hazzard's popularity wasn't a real mystery, since you could still enjoy the car chases or whichever one of the Duke family you fancied the most.

The Dukes of Hazzard

But the existence of The Outsiders is as mystifying to me as the thematically similar Sons of Anarchy. I don't get why you'd want to watch a show about a bunch of dirty, unattractive mountain men who go round stealing, poisoning, shooting people, lopping each others' fingers off and suffocating their mothers in the name of family law. If this was The Dukes of Hazzard, I'd be on Boss Hogg's side, and here I'm on the side of the sheriff (Thomas M Wright) and the FBI guys who want to evict the Family Chromosomeless from their mountain home in favour of the evil mining company who've just bought the land.

I can theorise it's all about some nostalgia for the Wild West, for small government, for constitutional rights governing property, the need for a strong family, et al. Maybe it's because the Duck Dynasty guys are better fictionalised than in reality. But if to get a strong family you need to stick one of your members in a cage for a few weeks for the crime of having 'gone travelling', maybe a strong family isn't worth it, and things like medicine, proper plumbing and shaving are much better ideas?

To be fair to the show, The Outsiders is about as smart a drama as you can make about a family of 200 or so cousins, only one of whose members can read. Compared to the bigots you might have been imagining, the 'Ferrells' are actually something rather different, accepting of black and trans women alike. Their strange family society, which has evolved over 200 years to shun money and has its own royal family, complete with codes of etiquette, is intriguing, too.

But The Outsiders is still about a bunch of people who'll ride quad bikes into a supermarket and steal what they want with impunity, because they know no one's coming after them. Are they the equivalent of The Krays? Are they Kentucky 'legends'? Or are they the equivalent of 'travellers' in the UK? Is, as one of the cast describes it, 'Mad Max meets Little House On The Prairie' a good thing in US terms or a bad thing? 

I just don't know. And maybe you have to be American to truly know if The Outsiders is a good or a bad programme. But given how many Australians there are in the cast, maybe not. So I'll go with bad.

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